Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (1947, UK, 101 min.). Digital.
Winner of an Oscar for best cinematography, this explosive technicolor drama follows a group of British nuns who set out to establish a convent high in the Himalayas in a castle that once housed a royal’s harem. The sisters are troubled by the grandeur of the landscape and the sensual pleasures all around them: tantalizing fruit, handsome men, beautiful women draped in jewels and bright clothing. To the horror of the Sister Superior (Deborah Kerr), one wayward sister (Kathleen Byron) begins to unravel.
Directors Powell and Pressburger (The Red Shoes) made a controversial decision to shoot on a soundstage in England rather than on location in the Himalayas so they could maintain complete control over the look of the film, particularly the placement of color. The scenic backgrounds were painted on glass in delicate blue. Off-white habits were chosen for the nuns, highlighting their ascetic lifestyle, and searing red was used to represent carnal pleasure.
The process of developing Black Narcissus’s visual style is detailed in a fascinating short film about cinematographer Jack Cardiff, Painting With Light. Watch it here.
Preceded by: A Trip to the Moon
Directed by George Méliès (France, 1902, 16 min.) 35mm. Live accompaniment provided by pianist Kevin Madison.
In 1902, pioneer magician and filmmaker Georges Méliès released his masterwork, the science fiction fantasy A Trip to the Moon. Inspired by a wide variety of sources, including Jules Verne's novels, the film follows a group of astronomers who travel to the Moon in a cannon-propelled capsule and return with a captive lunar inhabitant. Always a performer at heart, Milies wanted to amplify the film’s “shock and delight” factor by infusing it with vivid color. He sent some of the prints to the Paris coloring lab of Elisabeth Thuillier, a former colorist of glass and celluloid products who now directed a studio of two hundred people. These employees painted directly on film stock with brushes in the colors Thuillier chose and specified. Each worker was assigned a different color in assembly line style, with more than twenty separate colors often used for a single film. The result of this painstaking process was an other-worldly cinematic fantasia that enchanted audiences and still remains one of the most famous early films.
Once believed lost, a copy of the original, hand-colored version of Georges Méliès’ masterwork A Trip to the Moon was miraculously found in Barcelona, Spain in 1993. Initially thought too fragile to restore, the film underwent one of the most complex and ambitious film restoration projects ever. Three experts in film restoration – Lobster Films, Groupama Gan Foundation, and Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage – used the most advanced digital technologies available to assemble and painstakingly restore the film’s 13,375 fragmented frames. Thanks to the hard work of these technicians, you can now enjoy A Trip to the Moon at the MFA as it was meant to be seen: in vibrant color, on 35mm film.
New Member Benefit
This screening is included in our new ongoing series Jump Cut, highlighting a staff pick from each month’s lineup of films. MFA members can reserve a pair of free tickets to every Jump Cut screening as soon as tickets go on sale, pending availability.